Summer movies are back, baby. 

If you’ve missed theaters as much as we have, there’s nothing more alluring right now than the thought of a hot, sticky summer spent in the cool dark of an air-conditioned cinema. And after over a year of coronavirus-related delays and pivots, we’re finally looking forward to a summer movie season that looks a bit more like the summer movie seasons of yore, with lavish sequels, festival faves, and offbeat indies all jostling against each other for space at the multiplex.

Meanwhile, for those who prefer to watch at home, there’ll still be some big titles debuting on streaming — in some cases on the same day as, or just a few days after their theatrical bows.

Whatever your preference, there’s guaranteed to be something juicy for you to sink your teeth into this summer. Indeed, with so much stuff coming, you may need some help paring down your options. So here’s what to watch this summer…

1. If you’re with the kids: The Water Man (May 7)

With its expansive imagination, exciting (but not too scary) action, and huge heart, The Water Man gives off huge Bridge to Terabithia vibes — making it perfect for an all-ages movie night. Lonnie Chavis stars as a young boy trying to heal his dying mother (Rosario Dawson) by tracking down a local legend known as the Water Man. David Oyelowo, who plays the boy’s father, also directed.  

How to watch: The Water Man is in theaters May 7.

2. If you’ve got a strong stomach: Spiral: From the Book of Saw (May 14)

18 years and eight movies later, the Saw franchise is still going strong — and its latest offering is Spiral, starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Max Minghella as detectives trying to investigate a string of grisly murders without getting caught up in the killer’s game themselves. Based on the fact that they’re characters in a Saw movie, we’re going to go ahead and guess things don’t work out quite as they’d hoped.

How to watch: Spiral is in theaters May 14.

3. If you need an energy boost: Army of the Dead (May 14)

“IT’S A GODDAMN ZOMBIE TIGER.”

Either you’re the kind of person who just got really excited reading those words, or you’re not. If you are, Army of the Dead promises to be appointment viewing. Directed by Zack Snyder (you know, of Zack Snyder’s Justice League fame), the action-packed thriller centers on a band of mercenaries trying to pull off the ultimate heist in a zombie-ridden Las Vegas. Easy money — if they can just the freakin’ undead tigers

How to watch: Army of the Dead is in theaters May 14 and on Netflix May 21.

4. If you’re in the mood for love: I Carry You With Me (May 21)

I Carry You With Me (or Te Llevo Conmigo in Spanish) chronicles the decades-long romance between two men (played by Armando Espitia and Christian Vázquez) who fall in love as young men in Mexico and eventually make their way into the U.S., where they try to carve out new lives for themselves. Not only is it based on a true story, their real-life inspirations are actually featured in the movie itself — so be prepared to be moved, is what we’re saying. 

How to watch: I Carry You With Me is in theaters May 21.

5. If you’re not stressed enough already: A Quiet Place Part II (May 28)

Feeling stressed? Want to feel even more stressed, but in a fun way this time? A Quiet Place Part II invites you to white-knuckle your way through a fictional apocalypse, picking up with the Abbott family (led by Emily Blunt) after the events of the 2018 film — only to discover there’s more to fear than monsters in the outside world. John Krasinski returns to direct.

How to watch: A Quiet Place Part II is in theaters May 28.

6. If you’re ready to party in the streets: In the Heights (June 18)

The urge to go out and party can be strong after a year of social distancing. But if you’re not quite ready to take to the streets singing and dancing, you can watch other people do it instead. Based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical, In the Heights stars Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, and more as neighbors in a vibrant New York City community, and based on the rapturous early buzz, we suspect it’ll be just the celebration we need after a long and difficult year.

How to watch: In the Heights is in theaters and on HBO Max June 18.

7. If you had to cancel your summer vacation: Luca (June 18)

Pixar’s Luca starts out looking like a kiddie Call Me By Your Name before taking a hard left turn into the mythological, as it’s revealed the boys at its center are actually sea monsters. It may not be quite the same as going on an actual summer vacation to Italy — but with the sparkling ocean vista, the sun-dappled landscapes, and the delicious-looking food, it might be the next best thing.

How to watch: Luca hits Disney+ June 18.

8. If you’d never turn your back on family: F9 (June 25)

Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind…wait, wrong movie. But truly, no one gets left behind in F9, which not only reunites the old gang (Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, etc.) and introduces Dom’s brother (John Cena) into the mix — but also welcomes back fan favorite Sung Kang for long-delayed, well-deserved #JusticeForHan. 

How to watch: F9 is in theaters June 25.

9. If A24 horror is totally your shit: False Positive (June 25)

Image: anna kooris / HULU

When A24 announces a new horror movie, we listen — after all, they’re the ones responsible for such recent hits as Midsommar, Hereditary, and The Witch. This summer, they’re releasing False Positive, a Rosemary’s Baby-esque thriller starring Ilana Glazer and Justin Theroux as a couple who manage to conceive with the help of a fertility doctor (Pierce Brosnan), but begin to suspect something sinister underlies their happy news. As if pregnancy isn’t stressful enough already.

How to watch: False Positive hits Hulu June 25.

10. If you like some humor with your horror: Werewolves Within (June 25)

Werewolves Within has a potentially spooky premise — a snowed-in small town has to figure out what sinister creatures lurk among them — but with a cast that includes Sam Richardson, Michaela Watkins, Cheyenne Jackson, and Harvey Guillén, it’s all but guaranteed to deliver as many belly laughs as it does shrieks of terror. 

How to watch: Werewolves Within is in theaters June 25 and on demand July 2.

11. If you remember when Twitter was fun: Zola (June 30)

It may be hard to remember when you’re getting caught up in subtweeted drama or staring down the 87th cycle of a tepid “unpopular opinions” meme, but social media can be fun sometimes — and for proof, there’s Zola. Director Janicza Bravo turns the best Twitter thread of 2015 into a slick, stylish feature starring Taylour Paige as a waitress who gets caught up in the wildest journey of her life when she heads down to Florida with a fellow stripper (Riley Keough). 

How to watch: Zola is in theaters June 30.

12. If you’ve missed concerts: Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (July 2)

Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) revives footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which — despite bringing together such heavyweight performers as Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight — hasn’t gotten its cultural due in the past half century. Part concert film and part historical archive, Questlove’s documentary promises to bring infectious, electric energy to an already sizzling summer season. 

How to watch: Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is in theaters and on Hulu July 2.

13. If you adore spoken word poetry: Summertime (July 9)

Spoken-word poetry literally gets its day in the sun in Summertime, from Blindspotting director Carlos López Estrada. Following a diverse cast of Angelenos over the course of a hot summer day, the film aims to capture the wild ambition and frenetic energy of the city. If you’re not big on people breaking out into verse, this may not be for you — but if you’re open to something a little different, Summertime looks like a unique hidden gem.

How to watch: Summertime is in theaters July 9.

14. If you feel old: Old (July 23)

M. Night Shyamalan’s new thriller centers on a vacationing family (led by Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps) who stumble upon a strange beach where they find themselves aging decades in a matter of hours, so that their entire lifespans are reduced to the course of a single day. And here you thought you felt old because we just passed the 20th anniversary of Shrek or whatever. 

How to watch: Old is in theaters July 23.

15. If you crave adventure: Jungle Cruise (July 30)

If you know every line of Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy, if you still hum the Pirates of the Caribbean theme to yourself, if you stop to watch Jumanji every single time it’s on TV, Jungle Cruise would like to offer itself up as your new favorite action-adventure. Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson star as two explorers on the hunt for the Tree of Life in the early 20th century — and if that all sounds vaguely familiar, yes, it is based on the popular Disney ride. 

How to watch: Jungle Cruise is in theaters July 30.

16. If medieval fantasy is your jam: The Green Knight (July 30)

Sometimes, there’s nothing better on a bright summer day than a dark and moody movie. Directed by David Lowery, The Green Knight stars Dev Patel as Sir Gawain of Arthurian legend, with Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, and Kate Dickie rounding out the cast. What the trailer lacks in plot details, it more than makes up for in style, with an eerie fantasy vibe we can’t wait to dig into.

How to watch: The Green Knight is in theaters July 30.

17. If you prefer antiheroes to superheroes: The Suicide Squad (Aug. 6)

After giving us the Marvel’s strangest superhero team in Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel, director James Gunn is rounding up an even bigger gang of misfits for DC. The Suicide Squad brings together the likes of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), on a dangerous mission to bicker, blow things up, save the world, and look cute while doing it. If you like your comic book movies more silly than serious, this one should be right up your alley.

How to watch: The Suicide Squad is in theaters and on HBO Max Aug. 6.

18. If you’re ready to talk next year’s Oscars: Respect (Aug. 13)

This year’s extra-long Oscars race has finally come to an end, and you know what that means: It’s time to think about next year’s Oscars race. While it’s way too early to guess which films will actually end up in the running, it’s clear that Respect would like to be part of that conversation — and with 2006 Best Supporting Actress winner Jennifer Hudson playing Aretha Franklin, we’re certainly listening. Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, and Marc Maron also star.

How to watch: Respect is in theaters Aug. 13.

19. If you just wanna feel good: CODA (Aug. 13)

21 films we can't wait to see this summer

One of the biggest crowdpleasers of this year’s Sundance is finally making its way to you this summer. CODA stars Emilia Jones as the only hearing member of a Deaf family (played by the endlessly charismatic trio of Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin, and Daniel Durant) who’s torn between her family’s fishing business and her own passion for music. Prepare to laugh, cry, laugh some more, and then cry some more. 

How to watch: CODA is in theaters and on Apple TV+ Aug. 13.

20. If you don’t dare say his name into a mirror: Candyman (Aug. 27)

Almost 30 years after the original Candyman, Nia DaCosta’s sequel is here to teach a whole new generation of horror fans why you never, ever say his name into a mirror. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II leads the new take on the legend as an artist who moves into a new home in a rapidly gentrifying Chicago, only to find the neighborhood’s dark past still lurks in the shadows. 

How to watch: Candyman opens Aug. 27.

21. If you’re ready for a new Marvel hero: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Sep. 3)

It’s been over two years since Captain Marvel, the last Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to introduce a new hero — and we don’t know about you, but we’re ready to make some more new friends. Enter Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, starring Simu Liu as a young man who disappoints his dad (Tony Leung) by not going into the family business of, uh, terrorism. Expect epic martial arts action, a starry mostly-Asian cast (a first for Marvel), and many delightful Awkwafina wisecracks.

How to watch: Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is in theaters Sep. 3.

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